Chapter XVII.—Of the Wisdom of Moses, which was an Object of Imitation to the Wise among Heathen Nations. Also concerning Daniel, and the Three Children.
No nation has ever been more highly blessed than that which Moses led: none would have continued to enjoy higher blessings, had they not willingly withdrawn themselves from the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But who can worthily describe the praises of Moses himself; who, after reducing to order an unruly nation, and disciplining their minds 3449 to habits of obedience and respect, out of captivity restored them to a state of freedom, turned their mourning into gladness, and so far elevated their minds, 3450 that, through the excess of contrast with their former circumstances, and the abundance of their prosperity, the spirit of the people was elated with haughtiness and pride? So far did he surpass in wisdom those who had lived before him, that even the wise men and philosophers 3451 who are extolled by heathen nations aspired to imitate his wisdom. For Pythagoras, following his wisdom, attained to such a pitch of self-control, that he became to Plato, himself a model of discretion, the standard of his own self-mastery. Again, how great and terrible the cruelty of that ancient Syrian king, over whom Daniel triumphed, the prophet who unfolded the secrets of futurity, whose actions evinced transcendent greatness of soul, and the luster of whose character and life shone conspicuous above all? The name of this tyrant was Nebuchadnezzar, whose race afterward became extinct, and his vast and mighty power was transferred to Persian hands. The wealth of this tyrant was then, and is even now, celebrated far and wide, as well as his ill-timed devotion to unlawful worship, his idol statues, lifting their heads to heaven, and formed of various metals, and the terrible and savage laws ordained to uphold this worship. These terrors Daniel, sustained by genuine piety towards the true God, utterly despised, and predicted that the tyrants unseasonable zeal would be productive of fearful evil to himself. He failed, however, to convince the tyrant (for excessive wealth is an effectual barrier to true soundness of judgment), and at length the monarch displayed the savage cruelty of his character, by commanding that the righteous prophet should be exposed to the fury of wild beasts. Noble, too, indeed was the united spirit exhibited by those brethren 3452 (whose example others have since followed, and p. 574 have won surpassing glory by their faith in the Saviours name), 3453 those, I mean, who stood unharmed in the fiery furnace, and the terrors appointed to devour them, repelling by the holy touch of their bodies the flame by which they were surrounded. On the overthrow of the Assyrian Empire, which was destroyed by thunderbolts from Heaven, 3454 the providence of God conducted Daniel to the court of Cambyses the Persian king. Yet envy followed him even here; nor envy only, but the deadly plots of the magians against his life, with a succession of many and urgent dangers, from all which he was easily delivered by the providential care of Christ, 3455 and shone conspicuous in the practice of every virtue. Three times in the day did he present his prayers to God, and memorable were the proofs of supernatural power which he displayed: and hence the magians, filled with envy at the very efficacy of his petitions, represented the possession of such power to the king as fraught with danger, and prevailed on him to adjudge this distinguished benefactor of the Persian people to be devoured by savage lions. Daniel, therefore, thus condemned, was consigned to the lions den (not indeed to suffer death, but to win unfading glory); and though surrounded by these ferocious beasts of prey, he found them more gentle than the men who had enclosed him there. Supported by the power of calm and steadfast prayer, he was enabled to subdue all these animals, ferocious as, by nature, they were. Cambyses, on learning the event (for so mighty a proof of Divine power could not possibly be concealed), amazed at the marvelous story, and repenting the too easy credence he had given to the slanderous charges of the magians, resolved, notwithstanding, to be himself a witness of the spectacle. But when he saw the prophet with uplifted hands rendering praises to Christ, and the lions crouching, and as it were worshiping, at his feet, immediately he adjudged the magians, to whose persuasions he had listened, to perish by the self-same sentence, and shut them up in the lions den. 3456 The beasts, erewhile so gentle, rushed at once upon their victims, and with all the fierceness of their nature tore and destroyed them all. 3457
The sage commentators on this passage have thought it incumbent to explain and, as it were, apologize for the apparent tautology, “wise men or philosophers,—whichever you choose to call them” (Val. and Hein.). Colloquially speaking, there is a vast difference between being a philosopher and being a wise man. Probably this is no slip of style nor gracious option of language such as the editors impute, but some more or less clear distinction of technical terms.573:3452
“Spirit exhibited by these brethren in suffering martyrdom.”574:3453
Molz.remarks that to get any intelligent meaning out of this mass of sounding words, the translator often has to guess and translate very freely.574:3454
[᾽Αναιρεθείσης κεραυνῶν βολαῖς. This must be regarded as a rhetorical rather than historical allusion to the extinction of the Assyrian Empire. The critical reader will not fail to mark occasional instances of inaccuracy and looseness of statement in this chapter, and generally in the course of the oration.—Bag.] Valesius objects to this passage as follows in the language of 1711: “Neither do I well understand that. For Men, Towns, and Cities may be destroyed by Thunder-bolts,…But, truly I cant see how a kingdom could be ruined by Thunder.”574:3455
Constantine evidently believed in an eternal Christ.574:3456
“He adjudged to perish by the self-same sentence, and shut them up in the lions den,” is bracketed by Valesius and the second clause omitted by Bag.574:3457
“Eliminated them all.” Valesius calls attention to the characteristic slight inaccuracies of our author! e.g. in the Biblical account (1) it was not the magi; (2) it was not Cambyses.